Ap­point­ments speak vol­umes about Trump’s lead­er­ship

Texarkana Gazette - - OPINION - Carl Leub­s­dorf

The nasty pub­lic war be­tween Don­ald Trump and Rex Tiller­son un­der­scores one of the big­gest rea­sons for the prob­lems be­set­ting this ad­min­is­tra­tion: the pres­i­dent’s poor per­son­nel choices.

From White House chief of staff to sec­re­tary of state, Trump has proved far less adept in hir­ing peo­ple than he was at fir­ing them on his re­al­ity tele­vi­sion show. The re­sult: an ar­ray of top aides pre­dictably ill-suited for their po­si­tions.

His un­ex­pected vic­tory meant he had to pick of­fi­cials with lit­tle fore­thought, forc­ing him to fall back on past busi­ness as­so­ciates, con­ser­va­tive ide­o­logues rec­om­mended by his vice pres­i­dent and his own ques­tion­able in­stincts. Be­sides the Ma­rine gen­er­als he named to run the de­fense and home­land se­cu­rity de­part­ments, most ini­tial per­son­nel de­ci­sions proved to be poor.

Here are the most egre­gious ex­am­ples:

White House Chief of Staff: Trump picked Repub­li­can Na­tional Chair­man Reince Priebus, who lacked the man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence to su­per­vise an in­ex­pe­ri­enced pres­i­dent and staff. A prod­uct of to­day’s po­lit­i­cal par­ti­san­ship, Priebus also lacked the bi­par­ti­san con­tacts needed to suc­cess­fully deal with Capi­tol Hill. At a per­sonal level, he proved un­able to cope with Trump’s chaotic modus operandi. The in­stal­la­tion of re­tired Gen. John Kelly in the job has cor­rected at least some ini­tial man­age­ment prob­lems.

Chief White House Strate­gist: By se­lect­ing self­styled bomb-thrower Steve Ban­non as the chief of staff’s co-equal, Trump en­sured the staff dys­func­tion of his first six months. The joint choice seemed pat­terned af­ter how Ron­ald Rea­gan si­mul­ta­ne­ously picked Jim Baker and Ed­win Meese as top White House aides; Baker’s su­pe­rior po­lit­i­cal skills over­came Meese’s ad­min­is­tra­tive short­com­ings to cre­ate a highly ef­fec­tive op­er­a­tion. But this time it failed, and Priebus and Ban­non made early de­par­tures.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser: De­spite a rep­u­ta­tion for not work­ing well with oth­ers, Gen. Mike Flynn got the job co­or­di­nat­ing na­tional se­cu­rity, thanks to be­ing an early Trump sup­porter and a fire­brand cam­paigner. But he lasted just weeks, fired be­cause he lied about deal­ings with Rus­sia that re­main po­ten­tial prob­lems for Trump.

Press Sec­re­tary: A vet­eran Wash­ing­ton po­lit­i­cal pub­lic-re­la­tions op­er­a­tive who joined Priebus in throw­ing in with Trump, Sean Spicer seemed a log­i­cal choice. But he lost cred­i­bil­ity by bow­ing to Trump’s de­mands and telling re­peated un­truths, and his com­bat­ive per­son­al­ity un­der­cut his ef­fec­tive­ness. Sarah San­ders has a more even tem­per­a­ment, but her brief­ings pro­vide lit­tle in­sight into Trump’s thoughts or plans.

Sec­re­tary of State: Picked partly be­cause he “looked like” a sec­re­tary of state, Tiller­son, a for­mer Exxon Mo­bil ex­ec­u­tive, has proved a poor fit both for Trump, with whom he dis­agrees on cru­cial is­sues, and the State De­part­ment, whose ex­per­tise he doesn’t un­der­stand and whose struc­ture he seems hell­bent on re­vamp­ing. His in­evitable suc­ces­sor will face a tough task, both in co­ex­ist­ing with Trump and un­do­ing Tiller­son’s dam­age at Foggy Bot­tom.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral: Also ap­pointed be­cause he was an early Trump sup­porter, for­mer Alabama Sen. Jeff Ses­sions drew the pres­i­dent’s ire by re­cus­ing him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Af­ter barely keep­ing his job, Ses­sions seems de­ter­mined to re­gain Trump’s sup­port by un­der­min­ing the de­part­ment’s his­toric role in fight­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive views that are even ex­treme by cur­rent GOP stan­dards.

Sec­re­tary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices: One of the House’s most ra­bid ide­o­logues, for­mer Ge­or­gia Rep. Tom Price proved a walk­ing con­flict of in­ter­est, from his stock trad­ing in drug com­pa­nies as a con­gress­man to his in­ap­pro­pri­ate use of ex­pen­sive pri­vate air­craft for per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal trips. His House back­ground proved of lit­tle help in sell­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s flawed health care bill to the Se­nate.

Along with the sec­re­tary of de­fense, where Trump scored high with re­tired Ma­rine Gen. James Mat­tis, and the sec­re­tary of the trea­sury, these are among the most im­por­tant jobs in gov­ern­ment. Given Trump’s nar­row knowl­edge, in­stinc­tive ap­proach and lack of ex­pe­ri­enced ad­vis­ers, his trou­bles were pre­dictable. Some lesser choices also made lit­tle sense, like putting pe­di­atric sur­geon Ben Car­son in charge of the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment. Other se­lec­tions, like Sec­re­tary of In­te­rior Ryan Zinke and EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt, are tech­ni­cally qual­i­fied but are cre­at­ing long-term dam­age by dis­man­tling decades of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, to the de­light of the busi­ness com­mu­nity.

Trump has never un­der­stood that run­ning the U.S. gov­ern­ment re­quires team­work among many ex­pe­ri­enced of­fi­cials. It’s not a one-man op­er­a­tion, no mat­ter how much his tweets dom­i­nate po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue.

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